Health and Climate Change: policy responses to protect public health Page: 1,862
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
strong and accessible health systems, and reductions in social and economic inequity. Any prioritisation in global health must therefore place
sustainable development and climate change front and centre.
The Commission recommends that over the next 5years, governments:
8 Adopt mechanisms to facilitate collaboration between Ministries of Health and other government departments, empowering health
professionals and ensuring that health and climate considerations are thoroughly integrated in government-wide strategies. A siloed
approach to protecting human health from climate change will not work. This must acknowledge and seek to addres s the extent to which
additional global environmental changes, such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification, will impact on human health
and decrease resilience to climate change.
9 Agree and implement an international agreement that supports countries in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. Whilst the negotiations
are very complex, their goals are very simple: agree on ambitious and enforceable global mitigation targets, on adaptation of finance to
protect countries' rights to sustainable development, and on the policies and mechanisms that enable these measures. To this end,
international responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is shared: interventions that reduce emissions and promote global public
health must be prioritised irrespective of national boundaries.
Responding to climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.
To help drive this transition, the 2015 LancetCommission on Health and Climate Change will:
10 Develop a new, independent Countdown to 2030: Global Health and Climate Action, to provide expertise in implementing policies that
mitigate climate change and promote public health, and to monitor progress over the next 15 years. The Collaboration will be led by this
Commission, reporting in The Lancet every 2 years, tracking, supporting, and communicating progress and success along a range of
indicators in global health and climate change
In 2009, the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change called climate change "the biggest global health
threat of the 21st century".' 6 years on, a new multidisciplinary, international Commission reaches the same conclusion, whilst adding that
tackling climate change could be the greatest global opportunity of the 21st century.
The Commission represents a collaboration between European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental
scientists, biodiversity experts, engineers and energy policy experts, economists, political scientists and public policy experts, and health
professionals-all seeking a response to climate change that is designed to protect and promote human health.
The physical basis
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has described the physical basis for, the impacts of, and the response options to climate
change.2 In brief, short-wave solar radiation passes through the Earth's atmosphere to warm its surface, which emits longer wavelength
(infrared) radiation. Greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere absorb this radiation and re-emit it, sharing it with other atmospheric elements,
and with the Earth below. Without this effect, surface temperatures would be more than 30C lower than they are today.3 One such GHG is
carbon dioxide (C02), primarily released when fossil fuels (ie, oil, coal, and natural gas) are burned. Others, such as methane (CH4) and nitrous
oxide (N20), are generated through fossil-fuel use and human agricultural practice. GHG emissions have steadily climbed since the industrial
revolution.4 C02 remains in the atmosphere for a long time, with a part remaining for thousands of years or longer.5 As a result, atmospheric
GHG concentrations have risen steeply in the industrial age, those of CO2 reaching more than 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2014, for the first
time since humans walked the planet. Every additional ppm is equivalent to about 75 billion tonnes of atmospheric C02.6'7
In view of their proven physical properties, such rising concentrations must drive a net positive energy balance, the additional heat distributing
between gaseous atmosphere, land surface, and ocean. The IPCC's 2014 report confirms that such global warming, and the role of human activity
in driving it, are unequivocal. The oceans have absorbed the bulk (90% or more) of this energy in recent years and ocean surface temperatures
have risen.8 However, temperatures at the Earth's surface have also risen, with each of the last three decades being successively warmer than any
preceding decade since 1850. Indeed, 2014 was the hottest year on record. Overall, the Earth (global average land and ocean temperature) has
warmed by some 085 C between 1880 and 2012.8 Arctic sea ice is disappearing at a rate of up to 50 000 km2 per year, the Antarctic ice sheet is
now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice each year, and sea levels are rising inexorably.9
Much of past emissions remain in the atmosphere and will drive continued warming in the future. GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are
continuing to rise at a rate that is incompatible with limiting warming to 2C in the coming 35 years (by 2050), and which exceeds the IPCC's
"worst case scenario".'0 We are on track for a global average temperature rise of more than 4C above pre-industrial temperatures in the next
85 years, at which point global temperature will still be increasing by roughly 07 C per decade (due to the lag in reaching equilibrium). This
distribution will not be even: the so-called polar amplification phenomena might cause temperatures in parts of the Arctic to increase by 11 C
in this timeframe.8
The health impacts of climate change
The resultant climate change poses a range of threats to human health and survival in multiple, interacting ways (figure 1). Impacts can be
direct (eg, heatwaves and extreme weather events such as a storm, forest fire, flood, or drought) or indirectly mediated through the effects of
climate change on ecosystems (eg, agricultural losses and changing patterns of disease), economies, and social structure (eg, migration and
conflict). After only 085 C warming, many anticipated threats have already become real-world impacts. Table 1 summarises the evidence
attributing climate change to specific extreme weather events, outlining the role that climate change is playing in the present day (2013). It
demonstrates increasing certainty that climate change significantly alters the probability of extreme weather, most often in directions that have
dangerous health consequences.
Some population groups are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of climate change, whether because of existing socioeconomic
inequalities, cultural norms, or intrinsic physiological factors. These groups include women, young children and older people, people with existing
health problems or disabilities, and poor and marginalised communities. Such inequalities are often also present in relation to the causes of climate
change: women and children both suffer the majority of the health impacts of indoor air pollution from inefficient cookstoves and kerosene
lighting, and so mitigation measures can help to reduce existing health inequities such as these.
Non-linearities, interactions, and unknown unknowns
The magnitude and nature of health impacts are hard to predict with precision; however, it is clear that they are pervasive and reflect effects on key
determinants of health, including food availability. There are real risks that the effects will become non-linear as emissions and global
temperatures increase. First, large-scale disruptions to the climate system are not included in climate modelling and impact assessments.'8 As we
Here’s what’s next.
This article can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Article.
Watts, Nick; Adger, W. Neil; Agnolucci, Paolo; Blackstock, Jason; Byass, Peter; Cai, Wenjia et al. Health and Climate Change: policy responses to protect public health, article, June 22, 2015; Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1234369/m1/2/: accessed March 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.